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Monteverdi: Vespro Della Beata Vergine

4.8 out of 5 stars 23 customer reviews

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Audio CD, November 20, 1990
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Editorial Reviews

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John Eliot Gardiner's 1974 recording of Monteverdi's extraordinary Vespers of 1610 was a landmark, helping establish the modern reputations of both music and conductor. In 1989, to celebrate the silver anniversary of his Monteverdi Choir (named in honor of this work), he recorded the cycle again--this time live in the Basilica of San Marco in Venice. He made use of resources he didn't have 15 years earlier, like period instruments and, for soloists, a mix of early-music specialists (Ann Monoyios and Michael Chance) and opera singers (the young Bryn Terfel). As a bonus, he recorded both the standard version of the Magnificat for voices and instruments and Monteverdi's published alternative setting for six voices and organ. Gardiner gives a vigorous, theatrical, yet very detailed account of this music, caressing some phrases, thundering out others, using lots of carefully judged crescendos and decrescendos. On its terms, it works, thanks largely to the wondrous Monteverdi Choir, which can do anything asked of it. But there seems little of the sacred in the performance and almost nothing of the spontaneous or natural--the carefully calibrated effects can come across as overdetermined. In his booklet essay, Gardiner makes quite a point of his fidelity to the published score, yet he liberally adds instruments to double the voices, and he takes an odd liberty with the much-loved duet-trio "Duo seraphim": at the close of each half of the motet, at the words "plena est omnis terra," he has the tenors of his chorus take over from his soloists. If you're uncomfortable with that sort of thing, go for Andrew Parrott's marvelous one-singer-per-part performance or (for those who want a full chorus) for the version of William Christie or that of René Jacobs; if these additions don't faze you and you want a high-powered, adrenaline-rush performance, you'll find it here. --Matthew Westphal
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Product Details

  • Performer: Monteverdi Choir, Ann Monoyios, Michael Chance, Bryn Terfel
  • Orchestra: English Baroque Soloists
  • Conductor: John Eliot Gardiner
  • Audio CD (November 20, 1990)
  • Number of Discs: 2
  • Label: Archiv
  • ASIN: B0000057DL
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #35,069 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Audio CD
This is simply an extraordinary performance from both a documentary and aesthetic perspective.
Recorded at St. Mark's Basilica in Venice, where Monteverdi was composer-in-residence from 1613, the sound quality is outstanding. I've heard so many choral performances recorded in Renaissance churches that sound lost and empty. The engineers have done something special here -- they have produced a disc that SOUNDs like what I imagine a performance of the Vespers would have sounded to Monteverdi's ears.
The performances themselves are about the best I have heard from the Monteverdis and the soloists. Not one voice sounds out of harmony or rhythm, and not one instrument sounds a false not. That is almost unheard of in a live recording.
I'm not sure that this is the definitive recording of this work, but I haven't heard many that have come close. Frankly, though the one-voice-per-part approach favoured by some HIP ensembles would be totally inappropriate. Venice wanted its music BIG and that's how Monteverdi wrote it.
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By A Customer on December 9, 1998
Format: Audio CD
Monteverdi's Vespers is one of my favourite musical works and it constantly astounds me that something written nearly 500 years ago can reach out across the centuries and "grab" one. I have about 6 different versions. I must confess that I go for the "grand" interpretation, as opposed to the "devotional" interpretation (e.g., Parrott). Of all the "grand" versions I've heard, this reigns supreme. Gardiner has probably done more than any other conductor to bring this work into the central repertoire, to take its rightful place alongside the B Minor Mass and "Messiah", so it's not surprising. Recorded in St,Mark's Cathedral, Venice (one historical theory says that this is where it was performed) with a small band of singers and players, the feeling and committment of the ensemble really hits you. In particular, the totally appropriately-named Monteverdi choir sing brilliantly. A colossal achievement! Somebody's going to have to work darn hard to better it!
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Format: Audio CD
Odd how differently people hear this recording. A number of English reviewers' pale sensibilities are offended by the robustness of this performance, whereas American contributors are by and large much more welcoming of Gardiner's large-scale approach. Personally I love its grandeur and attack; it epitomises the renewed confidence and momentum of Catholicism in the Counter-Reformation. If you want restraint and understatement, Andrew Parrot's one-voice-per-part version is for you, but I think his approach severely undermines and mischaracterises the nature of the music and its spiritual inspiration. For me, twenty-five years on, for all that I am by no means an indiscriminate fan of Gardiner's musicianship, this account leaves all others in the dust. It marks a huge improvement on his earlier version and provides the most alluring and seductive introduction possible to Monteverdi's sound-world.

Gardiner's almost aggressively phrased and paced introduction raises fears that he is going to be a gung-ho pace throughout, but he soon relaxes into the lyrical sections of the score and permits his singers the requisite space and freedom to do justice to the lovely melismata, gorgeous suspended harmonies and spicy discords. The spacious acoustic of St Mark's lends weight and nobility the sound without obscuring detail; the recording engineers have achieved a very satisfying compromise between reverberation and clarity. Gardiner has used substantial forces: a big choir and baroque orchestra, sometimes doubling the singers with instruments and choosing soloists who sing out without sounding either "white", hooty and precious or, at the other extreme, too "operatic". In fact the singing is the best feature of this account; both the soloists and choir are stupendously good, especially tenor Nigel Robson.

I place this amongst Sir JEG's finest achievements, something of a benchmark recording. I have certainly never felt the need to own or listen to any other.
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Format: Audio CD
What a job application. Looking for work around 1610, Claudio Monteverdi composed this massive work in hopes of Vatican employment. He even dedicated it to his anticipated future boss, Pope Paul V - kissing up has a long tradition in the Western world. Inexplicably, the Vatican wasn't moved. Instead, Monteverdi accepted the patronage of the Doge in Venice and became their Maestro di Capella in 1613. Whether or not this masterpiece ever received a public performance during his life remains controversial amongst music historians. Either way, it must have suitably padded his already impressive resume. So Monteverdi's arguably most famous work originated from a job search. Stranger things have happened.

"Vespro Della Beata Vergine" or "Vespers of 1610" follows the Roman Catholic structure for evening mass as laid out in the liturgical canonical hours (also known as "Vespers"; "Vesper" means "evening" in Latin). The first CD opens with the traditional chanted versicle (Deus in adiutorium meum intende, etc.) and suddenly explodes with a riveting choir belting out the doxology (Gloria Patri et Filio). Accompanying instrumentation adds to the effect. This work truly starts with an unforgettable bang. This helps emphasize the oft-repeated doxology (all of the succeeding Psalms conclude with this same stanza). Next, the work alternates between five Psalms and four Concertos, then continues with a sontata, a hymn, and finishes with an enthralling "Magnificat." Though the work's title explictly references the Virgin Mary, only two pieces revolve around her. Subsequently, some scholars have argued that this work could get structured around any Saint, and Monteverdi simply chose the Virgin Mary as a marketing ploy for the Vatican.
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